I was at a loose end, staring out of the window looking at crows, and my mind turned to Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves. With a start, I realised how little I knew about them. As luck would have it, the very next day at a rummage sale I picked up a copy of a privately-printed pamphlet by Knud Padde, described on the title page as a Lecturer in Arabian Thievery Studies at the University of Ack-on-the-Vug, or possibly the University of Vug-on-the-Ack. Here is his list of the Forty Thieves, together with “preliminary notes” on each thief.
Corky – a hireling thief, a chump, a talc-powdered wastrel.
Mutcho – greasy, vindictive, base.
Ibster – looms terrible in dreams, licks ice cream cones.
Guff – the boffin of the gang, and sniper, and Tippi Hedren’s penpal,
Spoors – great galumphing fool, Oppidan, thimble-fumbler.
Waxy – waxy.
Geraldo – of monstrous girth, of lively demeanour, of hand-stitched tunics.
Carsten – polishes off raisins, swigs tap water, goes shod in clogs.
Fang – inhabits palatial apartments with his wolf and his minuets.
Sudbury – exists on a higher plane, thumps things, distressed.
Oswin – suffers fools gladly, hung out to dry.
Bantock – dustpan and brush man, Hotspur, clackety rhythm.
Mort – hedger, was a water-bailiff, albino.
Chippy – wanting eggs.
Hardcastle – fevered brow, distorted spine, curly ringlets.
Aptod – when first he flew he blundered into branches of dark trees.
Shopworn – lacks the common touch, hoist by petards, a darling.
Urbane – urbane yet ditzy, polka-dotted, ruminant.
Dobbin – pumped gas back in Montana, unbridled savagery, lacks depth.
Inky – several contradictory reports, buff-coloured envelope, chalk dust.
Hig – shallow, potted, wet.
Anglepoise – Jesuit upbringing, weather station, tarred with broad brush.
Snapper – bolt upright, sprained ankles, Maoist.
Boomer – booming voice, bloody nose, best before dusk.
Chepstow – owls nest in his hair, he plays the piccolo, he eats mashed potato.
Zigzoo – champs at bits, stinks of Jarlsberger, often with conifers.
Delmore – lurid, spiteful, mechanical.
Esher – flabby, subject to fits, member of Tuesday Weld Fan Club.
Jetboy – likely to be found upon rotating things in park playgrounds.
Casement – proudly lumpen, secretly engaged to a flapper, podcaster.
Uck – abnormal alignment of head upon neck, neck grubby, hair unwashed.
Fig – a stone’s throw from the sea, green about the gills, hot to trot.
Straubenzee – sings the songs his mother taught him in that Darmstadt nursery.
Fogbound – clatters to and fro, goes haywire, made of cement.
Wailywaily – hidden behind shutters, brilliantine in his hair, indiscreet.
Burgess – over by the ice rink, underneath the arches, powered by batteries.
Mudguard – guards mud.
Pepinstow – thunderous hooves, brilliant plumage, exquisite table manners.
Dixon – marimba, clutching at straws, gin slings and blood oranges.
Quangocrat – double helpings of sausage-shaped dough snacks.
This is a slightly revised version of a piece which originally appeared in 2011.